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After early exit, Hopkins lacrosse focused on finishing

The sign atop the lacrosse locker room door tells all.

"FINISH THE DRILL," it reads, in bold block letters, for all of the Johns Hopkins players to see. That terse message is the team's season mantra, as the Blue Jays play host to Towson (1-0) in their opener at 5 p.m. Friday at Homewood Field (ESPNU).

Coach Dave Pietramala posted the sign last month — a not-so-subtle reminder of Hopkins' unexpected exit from the playoffs last year. The Jays (13-3) fell to Denver, 14-9, in the NCAA quarterfinals.

The loss has gnawed at Hopkins ever since.

"We didn't finish what we wanted to accomplish," said Chris Boland, a senior attackman and the team's top scorer. "We had a great regular season, but we choked in the tournament. Denver beat us, from the moment they stepped on the field — and coach has reminded us of it.

"Every day, as practice winds down, we're screaming, 'Finish the drill! Finish the drill!' If we don't let up in practice, then we won't let up in games."

Certainly, Hopkins — which returns nine starters — is hyped for its opener.

"If we're not foaming at the mouth to get back on the field, after the way last season ended, then we've got bigger problems that need to be addressed," Pietramala said.

Never mind that the Jays have defeated Towson 16 straight times, including a 10-6 victory last season. Towson's new head coach, Shawn Nadelen, is a 2001 Hopkins alum who played for Pietramala in the latter's first year there.

It marks the first time in his 14 years at the helm that Pietramala, 44, has squared off against a head coach who once played for him.

"That will have an emotional impact," the Hopkins coach said. "On a personal level, I'll feel a great sense of pride, seeing one of our guys come back to Homewood Field. But that also means I want to beat him all the more.

"The last thing you want to do is give an inch to a competitor who's a stranger, let alone someone whom you are really close with. And Shawn will echo those sentiments, if I've taught him well."

On paper, Hopkins is stacked, front to back, though the coach remains cautious.

"Talent alone doesn't win games," Pietramala said. "Right now, all I want is to be 1-0."

Boland (Boys' Latin), a sixth-year senior who'll turn 25 in April, scored 54 points last year. Pierce Bassett, the goalie, made All-America (second team) as a sophomore. Both are keys in Hopkins' march toward a crown it last won in 2007.

Boland was a freshman then, and the fact that he's the lone Jay to have won a championship makes him the touchstone for a title-starved team.

"Chris' experience is invaluable to a team that needs leadership," Pietramala said. "He's the one guy who understands what it takes to win it all."

Players recognize Boland's worth and follow suit.

"Chris is setting the standard from the old days," said Bassett, the goalie, adding: "Well, not that old."

Boland says teammates razz him about his age.

"I hear the jokes," he said. "If I start limping in practice, it's 'Old man, are you all right?' Or, 'Old man needs a day off.'

"Sometimes, they call me 'Grandpa.' But I embrace it. I've learned a lot since I've been here. Guys can talk to me about troubles in school — I sat out one spring for academic reasons. And they can talk to me about getting hurt — I missed most of a season with a torn ACL."

In addition, two years ago, Boland was suspended for three games for disciplinary reasons. He returned, only to wreck his knee.

"That's when I really grew up," he said. "Rehabbing, I had time to reflect on what I'd gone through. I felt sorry for myself for a day or two and then thought, this team needs me as a leader. So I stood on the sidelines with my knee in a brace, took guys aside, put my arm around their shoulders and gave them pointers."

Boland's turnaround has impressed Pietramala.

"To say Chris has matured would be the understatement of the year," the coach said. "If there is a poster boy for growth, that guy is it. His future changed. Chris will leave here a man."

Bassett, meanwhile, should be even better in the net this season, on the heels of a stellar campaign for the slender goalie from Scottsdale, Ariz. He said he was "blown away" by the All-America honors and that the award "reflected what our defense did as a group."

Bassett is the first jewel plucked by Hopkins from tumbleweed country. He fell in love with lacrosse in third grade after watching a game on ESPN.

"The next day, I went out and bought my first stick," he said. "The only one I could find was at a used sporting goods store in town. It was an old STX Xcalibur.

"I still have it, too."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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